By Heidi Zemach for SCN- Andrew Rothenberger, a young, personable, hands-on kind of administrator, experienced in the challenges of running a small village school near Homer, was on hand when school recently opened for its Fall semester in Seward and Moose Pass.
Rothenberger substitute-taught science and math years during one winter in Seward the early 2000s, before returning to school in 2004 to get his teaching certificate.
He met Heather in Seward over the summer of 2002, while working a seasonal job at Fox Island for Kenai Fjords Tours. He’s also done multiple odd jobs around Seward, including working at the Seward Shipyard, and maintenance.
Those skills came in handy at Kachemak Selo School when he returned from Washington State to Alaska with a teaching degree.
It is a K-12 school in a tight-knit rural Russian Old Believer community outside of Homer, road-accessible only by an unpaved switchback trail used by four-wheelers.
He describes traveling that road in the snow delivering $20,000 worth of computers to the school.
In addition to teaching, and being the principal, it was also his job to plow snow, sand walkways, fix toilets, and handle other issues that arose during the normal course of the day.
He didn’t learn to speak Russian, the students’ and parents’ language at home, but the school had plenty of itinerants who were Russian interpreters to help.
One of his greatest accomplishments at Kachemak Selo was encouraging more students to stay and graduate high school, rather than drop out early to work at home or with the family fishing business, as they tended to do. Staying in school helped because fishing jobs are becoming more scarce and competitive among family members, while the trades/construction can also provide a good alternative for the young villagers.
Another accomplishment, Rothenberger feels, was persuading the community, both students and adults, to accept the benefits of computer technology, and getting computers into the classroom.
He did so through gentle persuasion, rigorous standards of computer use, and after-school computer education for adults.
Eventually they embraced the new technologies for their practical uses.